Book Review: Worlds Seen in Passing: Ten Years of Tor.com Short Fiction Edited by Irene Gallo

I acquired this excellent new anthology in a Christmas gift exchange at a gathering of local writers. Most folks received fun flamboyant socks but somehow I got the book. I don’t regret the lack of colorful images on my feet, because instead, I have spectacular images floating around in my mind.

After I read several of the stories in Worlds Seen in Passing, I realized that the level of overall quality was higher than in some recent best of the year collections I’ve read, and I wondered why. One reason is probably that Tor.com pays double or more what any other professional speculative fiction venue offers, and so it attracts the top talent.

The other reason that I came up with was the superlative team of editors that Tor.com employs. Most best-of anthologies have just one editor who makes all the choices, and naturally the final selections are going to skew in favor of that editor’s personal preferences. However, at least five or six top-class editors oversee the fiction at Tor.com, several of whom specialize in specific sub-genres. You’re bound to get a broader range of opinions that way. Usually when I read a best-of anthology, I love some stories, like others, and am not so keen on a fair amount. When I started reading Worlds Seen in Passing, I found the stories were all of top quality, highly entertaining, and very well written, one after the other. Even in the latter third of the book, where most of the stories are horror and fairy tales, which are not my favorite categories, every one of them is competently told and enjoyable to read. In fact, there was only one story in the entire book of over five hundred fifty pages that I lost interest in and didn’t finish reading; it was the only story in the volume that was all style and no plot.

As I said, most of the stories were excellent, but let’s see if I can highlight a few of my favorites. “Waiting on a Bright Moon” by J.Y. Yang is a novelette by a writer from Singapore who weaves together oriental mythology and interstellar adventure. The Chinese characters scattered throughout the text add to its sense of wonder. “About Fairies” by Pat Murphy is a subtle story about possible fairy hideaways in the midst of San Francisco. It’s unclear whether there is really a speculative element in it at all, but it’s still a wondrous tale. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal is a touching story about an aging spacefarer who gets a last chance for interstellar adventure. “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” by Tina Connolly is a stylistically clever fantasy about a baker that imbues memories into his wares and uses this power to overthrow a maniacal tyrant. “The End of the End of Everything” by Dale Bailey is an apocalyptic story about revelers becoming more and more decadent and depraved as the world falls into ruin. It has some truly gruesome scenes, and yet it is so well-written that it causes me to overcome my revulsion of explicit horror tales.

All in all, I recommend this book as a great selection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories.

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